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The

Heretic
Queen
A NOVEL

MICHELLE MORAN

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2008, 2009 by Michelle Moran
Excerpt from Cleopatra’s Daughter copyright © 2009 by Michelle Moran
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
www.crownpublishing.com
THREE RIVERS PRESS and the Tugboat design are registered trademarks of

Random House, Inc.
Originally published in hardcover in slightly different form in the United States by
Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random
House, Inc., New York, in 2008.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book Cleopatra’s Daughter by
Michelle Moran. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the
final content of the forthcoming edition.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Moran, Michelle.
The heretic queen : a novel / Michelle Moran.—1st ed.
p. cm.
1. Nefertari, Queen, consort of Ramesses II, King of Egypt—Fiction. 2. Ramesses II, King
of Egypt—Fiction. 3. Egypt—History—Nineteenth dynasty, ca. 1320–1200 B.C.—
Fiction. 4. Queens—Egypt—Fiction. 5. Egypt—Kings and rulers—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3613.O682H47 2008
813'.6—dc22
2008011857
ISBN 978-0-307-38176-7
Printed in the United States of America
Design by JoAnne Metsch
Map by Sophie Kittredge
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Paperback Edition

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Nineteenth Dynasty
Ramesses I m. Sitre

Woserit

Henuttawy

Seti I

m.

Isetnofret (Iset) m. Ramesses II

Tuya
Pili (deceased, child of Seti I and Tuya)
m.

M

Amunher Prehirwenemef
(Prehir)

Ramesses
(Ramessu)

Bintanath

Sethi

Khaemwaset

Isetnofret

Meritamen

M

Merenptah

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Tey

Gen. m. Mutnodjmet
Nakhtmin
(Mutny)
Nefertari

Meritaten

m.

m.

Vizier Ay

Nefertiti m. Amunhotep IV m. Kiya
(Akhenaten)

Horemheb

Baraka

Meketaten

Meryre Meriatem ?

Neferuaten

?

Neferne

?

?

Setepenre

Ankhesenamun

m.

Tutankhamun

?

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Author’s Note

w w T H E R E WA S A time in the Eighteenth Dynasty when
Nefertiti’s family reigned supreme over Egypt. She and her husband,
Akhenaten, removed Egypt’s gods and raised the mysterious sun
deity Aten in their place. Even after Nefertiti died and her policies
were deemed heretical, it was still her daughter Ankhesenamun and
her stepson, Tutankhamun, who reigned. When Tutankhamun died
of an infection at around nineteen years of age, Nefertiti’s father, Ay,
took the throne. With his death only a few years later, the last link
to the royal family was Nefertiti’s younger sister, Mutnodjmet.
Knowing that Mutnodjmet would never take the crown for herself, the general Horemheb took her as his wife by force, in order to
legitimize his own claim to Egypt’s throne. It was the end of an era
when Mutnodjmet died in childbirth, and the Nineteenth Dynasty
began when Horemheb passed the throne to his general, Ramesses I.
But Ramesses was an old man at the start of his rule, and when he
died, the crown passed to his son, Pharaoh Seti.
Now, the year is 1283 BC. Nefertiti’s family has passed on, and all
that remains of her line is Mutnodjmet’s daughter, Nefertari, an orphan in the court of Seti I.
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Prologue

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that if I sat in a quiet place, away from the
palace and the bustle of the court, I could remember scenes from my
childhood much earlier than six years old. As it is, I have vague impressions of low tables with lion’s-paw feet crouched on polished
tiles. I can still smell the scents of cedar and acacia from the open
chests where my nurse stored my favorite playthings. And I am sure
that if I sat in the sycamore groves for a day with nothing but the
wind to disturb me, I could put an image to the sound of sistrums
being shaken in a courtyard where frankincense was being burned.
But all of those are hazy impressions, as difficult to see through as
heavy linen, and my first real memory is of Ramesses weeping in the
dark Temple of Amun.
I must have begged to go with him that night, or perhaps my
nurse had been too busy at Princess Pili’s bedside to realize that I was
gone. But I can recall our passage through the silent halls of Amun’s
temple, and how Ramesses’s face looked like a painting I had seen of
women begging the goddess Isis for favor. I was six years old and always talking, but I knew enough to be quiet that night. I peered up
I AM SURE

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Michelle Moran
at the painted images of the gods as they passed through the glow of
our flickering torchlight, and when we reached the inner sanctum,
Ramesses spoke his first words to me.
“Stay here.”
I obeyed his command and drew deeper into the shadows as he
approached the towering statue of Amun. The god was illuminated
by a circle of lamplight, and Ramesses knelt before the creator of
life. My heart was beating so loudly in my ears that I couldn’t hear
what he was whispering, but his final words rang out. “Help her,
Amun. She’s only six. Please don’t let Anubis take her away. Not yet!”
There was movement from the opposite door of the sanctum, and
the whisper of sandaled feet warned Ramesses that he wasn’t alone.
He stood, wiping tears from his eyes, and I held my breath as a man
emerged like a leopard from the darkness. The spotted pelt of a
priest draped from his shoulders, and his left eye was as red as a pool
of blood.
“Where is the king?” the High Priest demanded.
Ramesses, summoning all the courage of his nine years, stepped
into the circle of lamplight and spoke. “In the palace, Your Holiness.
My father won’t leave my sister’s side.”
“Then where is your mother?”
“She . . . she’s with her as well. The physicians say my sister is
going to die!”
“So your father sent children to intervene with the gods?”
I understood for the first time why we had come. “But I’ve promised Amun whatever he wants,” Ramesses cried. “Whatever shall be
mine in my future.”
“And your father never thought to call on me?”
“He has! He’s asked that you come to the palace.” His voice broke.
“But do you think that Amun will heal her?”
The High Priest moved across the tiles. “Who can say?”
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“But I came on my knees and offered him anything. I did as I was
told.”
“You may have,” the High Priest snapped, “but Pharaoh himself
has not visited my temple.”
Ramesses took my hand, and we followed the hem of the High
Priest’s robes into the courtyard. A trumpet shattered the stillness of
the night, and when priests appeared in long white cloaks, I thought
of the mummified god Osiris. In the darkness, it was impossible to
make out their features, but when enough had assembled, the High
Priest shouted, “To the palace of Malkata!”
With torchlights before us we swept into the darkness. Our chariots raced through the chill Mechyr night to the River Nile. And
when we’d crossed the waters to the steps of the palace, guards ushered our retinue into the hall.
“Where is the royal family?” the High Priest demanded.
“Inside the princess’s bedchamber, Your Holiness.”
The High Priest made for the stairs. “Is she alive?”
When no guard answered, Ramesses broke into a run, and I hurried after him, afraid of being left in the dark halls of the palace.
“Pili!” he cried. “Pili, no! Wait!” He took the stairs two at a time and
at the entrance to Pili’s chamber two armed guards parted for him.
Ramesses swung open the heavy wooden doors and stopped. I peered
into the dimness. The air was thick with incense, and the queen was
bent in mourning. Pharaoh stood by himself in the shadows, away
from the single oil lamp that lit the room.
“Pili,” Ramesses whispered. “Pili!” he cried. He didn’t care that it
was unbecoming of a prince to weep. He ran to the bed and grasped
his sister’s hand. Her eyes were shut, and her small chest no longer
shook with the cold. From beside her on the bed, the Queen of
Egypt let out a violent sob.
“Ramesses, you must instruct them to ring the bells.”
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Ramesses looked to his father, as if the Pharaoh of Egypt might
reverse death itself.
Pharaoh Seti nodded. “Go.”
“But I tried!” Ramesses cried. “I begged Amun.”
Seti moved across the room and placed his arm around Ramesses’s
shoulders. “I know. And now you must tell them to ring the bells.
Anubis has taken her.”
But I could see that Ramesses couldn’t bear to leave Pili alone. She
had been fearful of the dark, like I was, and she would be afraid of so
much weeping. He hesitated, but his father’s voice was firm.
“Go.”
Ramesses looked down at me, and it was understood that I would
accompany him.
In the courtyard, an old priestess sat beneath the twisted limbs
of an acacia, holding a bronze bell in her withered hands. “Anubis
will come for us all one day,” she said, her breath fogging the cold
night.
“Not at six years old!” Ramesses shouted. “Not when I begged for
her life from Amun.”
The old priestess laughed harshly. “The gods do not listen to children! What great things have you accomplished that Amun should
hear you speak? What wars have you won? What monuments have
you erected?”
I hid behind Ramesses’s cloak, and neither of us moved.
“Where will Amun have heard your name,” she demanded, “to recognize it among so many thousands begging for aid?”
“Nowhere,” I heard Ramesses whisper, and the old priestess nodded firmly.
“If the gods cannot recognize your names,” she warned, “they will
never hear your prayers.”

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Chapter One
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Pharaoh of
Upper Egypt
Thebes, 1283

BC

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“ S TAY S T I L L ,” Paser admonished firmly. Although Paser
was my tutor and couldn’t tell a princess what to do, there would be
extra lines to copy if I didn’t obey. I stopped shifting in my beaded
dress and stood obediently with the other children of Pharaoh Seti’s
harem. But at thirteen years old, I was always impatient. Besides, all I
could see was the gilded belt of the woman in front of me. Heavy
sweat stained her white linen, trickling down her neck from beneath
her wig. As soon as Ramesses passed in the royal procession, the
court would be able to escape the heat and follow him into the cool
shade of the temple. But the procession was moving terribly slow. I
looked up at Paser, who was searching for an open path to the front
of the crowd.
“Will Ramesses stop studying with us now that he’s becoming
coregent?” I asked.
“Yes,” Paser said distractedly. He took my arm and pushed our way
through the sea of bodies. “Make way for the princess Nefertari!
Make way!” Women with children stepped aside until we were
standing at the very edge of the roadway. All along the Avenue of
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Sphinxes, tall pots of incense smoked and burned, filling the air with
the sacred scent of kyphi that would make this, above all days, an
auspicious one. The brassy sound of trumpets filled the avenue, and
Paser pushed me forward. “The prince is coming!”
“I see the prince every day,” I said sullenly. Ramesses was the only
son of Pharaoh Seti, and now that he had turned seventeen, he
would be leaving his childhood behind. There would be no more
studying with him in the edduba, or hunting together in the afternoons. His coronation held no interest for me then, but when he
came into view, even I caught my breath. From the wide lapis collar
around his neck to the golden cuffs around his ankles and wrists, he
was covered in jewels. His red hair shone like copper in the sun, and
a heavy sword hung at his waist. Thousands of Egyptians surged forward to see, and as Ramesses strode past in the procession, I reached
forward to tug at his hair. Although Paser inhaled sharply, Pharaoh
Seti laughed, and the entire procession came to a halt.
“Little Nefertari.” Pharaoh patted my head.
“Little?” I puffed out my chest. “I’m not little.” I was thirteen, and in
a month I’d be fourteen.
Pharaoh Seti chuckled at my obstinacy. “Little only in stature
then,” he promised. “And where is that determined nurse of yours?”
“Merit? In the palace, preparing for the feast.”
“Well, tell Merit I want to see her in the Great Hall tonight. We
must teach her to smile as beautifully as you do.” He pinched my
cheeks, and the procession continued into the cool recesses of the
temple.
“Stay close to me,” Paser ordered.
“Why? You’ve never minded where I’ve gone before.”
We were swept into the temple with the rest of the court, and at
last, the heavy heat of the day was shut out. In the dimly lit corridors
a priest dressed in the long white robes of Amun guided us swiftly to
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the inner sanctum. I pressed my palm against the cool slabs of stone
where images of the gods had been carved and painted. Their faces
were frozen in expressions of joy, as if they were happy to see that
we’d come.
“Be careful of the paintings,” Paser warned sharply.
“Where are we going?”
“To the inner sanctum.”
The passage widened into a vaulted chamber, and a murmur of
surprise passed through the crowd. Granite columns soared up into
the gloom, and the blue tiled roof had been inlaid with silver to imitate the night’s glittering sky. On a painted dais, a group of Amun
priests were waiting, and I thought with sadness that once Ramesses
was coregent, he would never be a carefree prince in the marshes
again. But there were still the other children from the edduba, and I
searched the crowded room for a friend.
“Asha!” I beckoned, and when he saw me with our tutor, he
threaded his way over. As usual, his black hair was bound tightly in a
braid; whenever we hunted it trailed behind him like a whip. Although his arrow was often the one that brought down the bull, he
was never the first to approach the kill, prompting Pharaoh to call
him Asha the Cautious. But as Asha was cautious, Ramesses was impulsive. In the hunt, he was always charging ahead, even on the most
dangerous roads, and his own father called him Ramesses the Rash. Of
course, this was a private joke between them, and no one but
Pharaoh Seti ever called him that. I smiled a greeting at Asha, but
the look Paser gave him was not so welcoming.
“Why aren’t you standing with the prince on the dais?”
“But the ceremony won’t begin until the call of the trumpets,”
Asha explained. When Paser sighed, Asha turned to me. “What’s the
matter? Aren’t you excited?”
“How can I be excited,” I demanded, “when Ramesses will spend
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all his time in the Audience Chamber, and in less than a year you’ll
be leaving for the army?”
Asha shifted uncomfortably in his leather pectoral. “Actually, if
I’m to be a general,” he explained, “my training must begin this
month.” The trumpets blared, and when I opened my mouth to
protest, he turned. “It’s time!” Then his long braid disappeared into
the crowd. A great hush fell over the temple, and I looked up at
Paser, who avoided my gaze.
“What is she doing here?” someone hissed, and I knew without
turning that the woman was speaking about me. “She’ll bring nothing but bad luck on this day.”
Paser looked down at me, and as the priests began their hymns
to Amun, I pretended not to have heard the woman’s whispers. Instead, I watched as the High Priest Rahotep emerged from the
shadows. A leopard’s pelt hung from his shoulders, and as he slowly
ascended the dais, the children next to me averted their gaze. His
face appeared frozen, like a mask that never stops grinning, and his
left eye was still red as a carnelian stone. Heavy clouds of incense
filled the inner sanctum, but Rahotep appeared immune to the
smoke. He lifted the hedjet crown in his hands, and without blinking, placed it on top of Ramesses’s golden brow. “May the great god
Amun embrace Ramesses the Second, for now he is Pharaoh of
Upper Egypt.”
While the court erupted into wild cheers, I felt my heart sink. I
fanned away the acrid scent of perfume from under women’s arms,
and children with ivory clappers beat them together in a noise that
filled the entire chamber. Seti, who was now only ruler of Lower
Egypt, smiled widely. Then hundreds of courtiers began to move,
crushing me between their belted waists.
“Come. We’re leaving for the palace!” Paser shouted.

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I glanced behind me. “What about Asha?”
“He will have to find you later.”
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D I G N I TA R I E S F R O M every kingdom in the world came to the palace
of Malkata to celebrate Ramesses’s coronation. I stood at the entrance to the Great Hall, where the court took its dinner every
night, and admired the glow of a thousand oil lamps as they cast
their light across the polished tiles. The chamber was filled with
men and women dressed in their finest kilts and beaded gowns.
“Have you ever seen so many people?”
I turned. “Asha!” I exclaimed. “Where have you been?”
“My father wanted me in the stables to prepare—”
“For your time in the military?” I crossed my arms, and when Asha
saw that I was truly upset, he smiled disarmingly.
“But I’m here with you now.” He took my arm and led me into the
hall. “Have you seen the emissaries who have arrived? I’ll bet you
could speak with any one of them.”
“I can’t speak Shasu,” I said, to be contrary.
“But every other language! You could be a vizier if you weren’t a
girl.” He glanced across the hall and pointed. “Look!”
I followed his gaze to Pharaoh Seti and Queen Tuya on the royal
dais. The queen never went anywhere without Adjo, and the blackand-white dog rested his tapered head on her lap. Although her iwiw
had been bred for hunting hare in the marshes, the farthest he ever
walked was from his feathered cushion to the water bowl. Now that
Ramesses was Pharaoh of Upper Egypt, a third throne had been
placed next to his mother.
“So Ramesses will be seated off with his parents,” I said glumly. He
had always eaten with me beneath the dais, at the long table filled

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with the most important members of the court. And now that his
chair had been removed, I could see that my own had been placed
next to Woserit, the High Priestess of Hathor. Asha saw this as well
and shook his head.
“It’s too bad you can’t sit with me. What will you ever talk about
with Woserit?”
“Nothing, I suspect.”
“At least they’ve placed you across from Henuttawy. Do you think
she might speak with you now?”
All of Thebes was fascinated with Henuttawy, not because she
was one of Pharaoh Seti’s two younger sisters, but because there was
no one in Egypt with such mesmerizing beauty. Her lips were carefully painted to match the red robes of the goddess Isis, and only
the priestesses were allowed to wear that vivid color. As a child of
seven I had been fascinated by the way her cloak swirled around her
sandals, like water moving gently across the prow of a ship. I had
thought at the time that she was the most beautiful woman I would
ever see, and tonight I could see that I was still correct. Yet even
though we had eaten together at the same table for as long as I could
remember, I couldn’t recall a single instance when she had spoken to
me. I sighed. “I doubt it.”
“Don’t worry, Nefer.” Asha patted my shoulder the way an older
brother might have. “I’m sure you’ll make friends.”
He crossed the hall, and I watched him greet his father at the generals’ table. Soon, I thought, he’ll be one of those men, wearing his braided hair
in a small loop at the back of his neck, never going anywhere without his sword.
When Asha said something to make his father laugh, I thought of
my mother, Queen Mutnodjmet. If she had survived, this would
have been her court, filled with her friends, and viziers, and laughter. Women would never dare to whisper about me, for instead of
being a spare princess, I’d be the princess.
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I took my place next to Woserit, and a prince from Hatti smiled
across at me. The three long braids that only Hittites wore fell down
his back, and as the guest of honor, his chair had been placed to the
right of Henuttawy. Yet no one had remembered the Hittite custom
of offering bread to the most important guest first. I took the untouched bowl and passed it to him.
He was about to thank me when Henuttawy placed her slender
hand on his arm and announced, “The court of Egypt is honored to
host the prince of Hatti as a guest at my nephew’s coronation.”
The viziers, along with everyone at the table, raised their cups,
and when the prince made a slow reply in Hittite, Henuttawy
laughed. But what the prince said hadn’t been funny. His eyes
searched the table for help, and when no one came to his aid, he
looked at me.
“He is saying that although this is a happy day,” I translated,
“he hopes that Pharaoh Seti will live for many years and not leave
the throne of Lower Egypt to Ramesses too soon.”
Henuttawy paled, and at once I saw that I was wrong to have
spoken.
“Intelligent girl,” the prince said in broken Egyptian.
But Henuttawy narrowed her eyes. “Intelligent? Even a parrot can
learn to imitate.”
“Come, Priestess. Nefertari is quite clever,” Vizier Anemro offered. “No one else remembered to pass bread to the prince when he
came to the table.”
“Of course she remembered,” Henuttawy said sharply. “She probably learned it from her aunt. If I recall, the Heretic Queen liked the
Hittites so much she invited them to Amarna where they brought
us the plague. I’m surprised our brother even allows her to sit
among us.”
Woserit frowned. “That was a long time ago. Nefertari can’t help
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who her aunt was.” She turned to me. “It’s not important,” she said
kindly.
“Really?” Henuttawy gloated. “Then why else would Ramesses
consider marrying Iset and not our princess?” I lowered my cup, and
Henuttawy continued. “Of course, I have no idea what Nefertari will
do if she’s not to become a wife of Ramesses. Maybe you could take
her in, Woserit.” Henuttawy looked to her younger sister, the High
Priestess of the cow goddess Hathor. “I hear that your temple needs
some good heifers.”
A few of the courtiers at our table snickered, and Henuttawy
looked at me the way a snake looks at its dinner.
Woserit cleared her throat. “I don’t know why our brother puts up
with you.”
Henuttawy held out her hand to the Hittite prince, and both
of them stood to join the dancing. When the music began, Woserit
leaned close to me. “You must be careful around my sister now.
Henuttawy has many powerful friends in the palace, and she can
ruin you in Thebes if that’s what she wishes.”
“Because I translated for the prince?”
“Because Henuttawy has an interest in seeing Iset become Chief
Wife, and there has been talk that this was a role Ramesses might ask
you to fill. Given your past, I should say it’s unlikely, but my sister
would still be more than happy to see you disappear. If you want to
continue to survive in this palace, Nefertari, I suggest you think
where your place in it will be. Ramesses’s childhood ended tonight,
and your friend Asha will enter the military soon. What will you do?
You were born a princess and your mother was a queen. But when
your mother died, so did your place in this court. You have no one to
guide you, and that’s why you’re allowed to run around wild, hunting
with the boys and tugging Ramesses’s hair.”
I flushed. I had thought Woserit was on my side.
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“Oh, Pharaoh Seti thinks it is cute,” she admitted. “And you are.
But in two years that kind of behavior won’t be so charming. And
what will you do when you’re twenty? Or thirty even? When the
gold that you’ve inherited is spent, who will support you? Hasn’t
Paser ever spoken about this?”
I steadied my lip with my teeth. “No.”
Woserit raised her brows. “None of your tutors?”
I shook my head.
“Then you still have much to learn, no matter how fluent your
Hittite.”
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T H AT E V E N I N G , as I undressed for bed, my nurse remarked on my
unusual silence.
“What? Not practicing languages, my lady?” She poured warm
water from a pitcher into a bowl, then set out a cloth so I could wash
my face.
“What is the point of practicing?” I asked. “When will I use them?
Viziers learn languages, not spare princesses. And since a girl can’t
be a vizier . . .”
Merit scraped a stool across the tiles and sat next to me. She
studied my face in the polished bronze, and no nurse could have
been more different from her charge. Her bones were large, whereas
mine were small, and Ramesses liked to say that whenever she
was angry her neck swelled beneath her chin like a fat pelican’s
pouch. She carried her weight in her hips and her breasts, whereas
I had no hips and breasts at all. She had been my nurse from the time
my mother had died in childbirth, and I loved her as if she were
my own mawat. Now, her gaze softened as she guessed at my troubles. “Ah.” She sighed deeply. “This is because Ramesses is going to
marry Iset.”

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I glanced at her in the mirror. “Then it’s true?”
She shrugged. “There’s been some talk in the palace.” As she
shifted her ample bottom on the stool, faience anklets jangled on
her feet. “Of course, I had hopes that he was going to marry you.”
“Me?” I thought of Woserit’s words and stared at her. “But why?”
She took back my cloth and wrung it out in the bowl. “Because
you are the daughter of a queen, no matter your relationship to the
Heretic and his wife.” She was referring to Nefertiti and her husband, Akhenaten, who had banished Egypt’s gods and angered
Amun. Their names were never spoken in Thebes. They were simply
The Heretics, and even before I had understood what this meant, I had
known that it was bad. Now, I tried to imagine Ramesses looking at
me with his wide blue eyes, asking me to become his wife, and a
warm flush crept over my body. Merit continued, “Your mother
would have expected to see you married to a king.”
“And if I don’t marry?” After all, what if Ramesses didn’t feel the
same way about me as I felt about him?
“Then you will become a priestess. But you go every day to the
Temple of Amun, and you’ve seen how the priestesses live,” she said
warningly, motioning for me to stand with her. “There wouldn’t be
any fine horses or chariots.”
I raised my arms, and Merit took off my beaded dress. “Even if I
were a High Priestess?”
Merit laughed. “Are you already planning for Henuttawy’s death?”
I flushed. “Of course not.”
“Well, you are thirteen. Nearly fourteen. It’s time to decide your
place in this palace.”
“Why does everyone keep telling me this tonight?”
“Because a king’s coronation changes everything.”
I put on a fresh sheath, and when I climbed into bed, Merit looked
down at me.
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“You have eyes like Tefer,” she said tenderly. “They practically
glow in the lamplight.” My spotted miw curled closer to me, and
when Merit saw us together she smiled. “A pair of green-eyed beauties,” she said.
“Not as beautiful as Iset.”
Merit sat herself on the edge of my bed. “You are the equal of any
girl in this palace.”
I rolled my eyes and turned my face away. “You don’t have to pretend. I know I’m nothing like Iset—”
“Iset is three years older than you. In a year or two, you will be a
woman and will have grown into your body.”
“Asha says I’ll never grow, that I’ll still be as short as Seti’s dwarfs
when I’m twenty.”
Merit pushed her chin inward so that the pelican’s pouch wagged
angrily. “And what does Asha think he knows about dwarfs? You will
be as tall and beautiful as Isis one day! And if not as tall,” she added
cautiously, “then at least as beautiful. What other girl in this palace
has eyes like yours? They’re as pretty as your mother’s. And you
have your aunt’s smile.”
“I’m nothing like my aunt,” I said angrily.
But then, Merit had been raised in the court of Nefertiti and
Akhenaten, so she would know if this were true. Her father had been
an important vizier, and Merit had been a nurse to Nefertiti’s children. In the terrible plague that swept through Amarna, Merit lost
her family and two of Nefertiti’s daughters in her care. But she never
spoke about it to me, and I knew she wished to forget this time
twenty years ago. I was sure, as well, that Paser had taught us that
the High Priest Rahotep had also served my aunt once, but I was too
afraid to confirm this with Merit. This is what my past was like for
me. Narrowed eyes, whispering, and uncertainty. I shook my head
and murmured, “I am nothing like my aunt.”
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Merit raised her brows. “She may have been a heretic,” she whispered, “but she was the greatest beauty who ever walked in Egypt.”
“Prettier than Henuttawy?” I challenged.
“Henuttawy would have been cheap bronze to your aunt’s gold.”
I tried to imagine a face prettier than Henuttawy’s, but couldn’t do
it. Secretly I wished that there was an image of Nefertiti left in
Thebes. “Do you think that Ramesses will choose Iset because I am
related to the Heretic Queen?”
Merit pulled the covers over my chest, prompting a cry of protest
from Tefer. “I think that Ramesses will choose Iset because you are
thirteen and he is seventeen. But soon, my lady, you will be a woman
and ready for whatever future you decide.”

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Chapter Two
w

Three Lines
of Cuneiform

ww

for the past seven years I had walked
from my chamber in the royal courtyard to the small Temple of
Amun by the palace. And there, beneath the limestone pillars, I had
giggled with other students of the edduba while Tutor Oba shuffled
up the path, using his walking stick like a sword to beat back anyone
who stood in his way. Inside, the temple priests would scent our
clothes with sacred kyphi, and we would leave smelling of Amun’s
daily blessing. Ramesses and Asha would race me to the whitewashed schoolhouse beyond the temple, but yesterday’s coronation
changed everything. Now Ramesses would be gone, and Asha would
feel too embarrassed to race. He would tell me he was too old for
such things. And soon, he would leave me as well.
When Merit appeared in my chamber, I followed her glumly into
my robing room, lifting my arms while she fastened a linen belt
around my kilt.
“Myrtle or fenugreek today, my lady?”
I shrugged. “I don’t care.”
She frowned at me and fetched the myrtle cream. She opened the
E V E RY M O R N I N G

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alabaster jar with a twist, then spread the thick cream over my
cheeks. “Stop making that face,” she reprimanded.
“What face?”
“The one like Bes.”
I suppressed a smile. Bes was the dwarf god of childbirth; his
hideous grimace scared Anubis from dragging newborn children
away to the Afterlife.
“I don’t know what you have to sulk about,” Merit said. “You won’t
be alone. There’s an entire edduba full of students.”
“And they’re only nice to me because of Ramesses. Asha and
Ramesses are my only real friends. None of the girls will go hunting
or swimming.”
“Then it’s lucky for you that Asha is still in the edduba.”
“For now.” I took my schoolbag grudgingly, and as Merit saw me
off from my chamber she called, “Scowling like Bes will only scare
him away sooner!”
But I wasn’t in the mood for her humor. I took the longest path to
the edduba, through the eastern passageway into the shadowed
courtyards at the rear of the palace, then along the crescent of temples and barracks that separated Malkata from the hills beyond. I
have often heard the palace compared to a pearl, perfectly protected
within its shell. On one side are the sandstone cliffs, on the other is
the lake that had been carved by my akhu to allow boats to travel
from the River Nile to the very steps of the Audience Chamber.
Amunhotep III built it for his wife, Queen Tiye. When his architects
had said that such a thing could never be made, he designed it himself. With his legacy before me, I walked slowly around the Arena,
past the barracks with their dusty parade grounds, and then beyond
the servants’ quarters that squatted back into the wadis to the west.
When I came to the lakeshore, I approached the water to peer at my
reflection.
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I don’t look anything like Bes, I thought. For one, he has a much bigger nose
than I do. I made the grimace that all artists carve on statues of Bes,
and behind me someone laughed.
“Are you admiring your teeth?” Asha cried. “What kind of face was
that?”
I glared at him. “Merit says I have a face like Bes.”
Asha stepped back to scrutinize me. “Yes, I can see the resemblance. You both have big cheeks, and you are rather short.”
“Stop it!”
“I wasn’t the one making the face!” We continued our walk to the
temple and he asked, “So did Merit tell you the news last night?
Ramesses will probably marry Iset.”
I looked away and didn’t reply. In the heat of Thoth, the sun cast
its rays across the lake like a golden fisherman’s net. “If Ramesses was
going to be married,” I said finally, “why wouldn’t he tell us about it
himself?”
“Perhaps he isn’t certain. After all, it’s Pharaoh Seti who will ultimately decide.”
“But she isn’t a match for Ramesses at all! She doesn’t hunt, or
swim, or play Senet. She can’t even read Hittite!”
Tutor Oba glared as we approached the courtyard, and under his
breath Asha whispered, “Prepare for it!”
“How nice of the two of you to join us!” Oba exclaimed. Two hundred faces turned in our direction, and Tutor Oba lashed out at Asha
with his stick. “Get in line!” He caught Asha on the back of the leg,
and we scampered to join the other students. “Do you think that Ra
appears in his solar bark when he feels like it? Of course not! He’s on
time. Every sunrise he’s on time!”
Asha glanced over his shoulder at me in line as we followed Tutor
Oba into the sanctuary. Cloth mats had been spread out for us
on the floor, and we took our seats and waited for the priests. I
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whispered to Asha, “I’ll bet Ramesses is sitting in the Audience
Chamber right now, wishing he was with us.”
“I don’t know. He’s safe from Tutor Oba.”
I snickered as seven priests entered the chamber, swinging incense
from bronze holders and intoning the morning hymn to Amun.

Hail to thee, Amun-Ra, Lord of the thrones of the earth, the oldest
existence, ancient of heaven, support of all things.
Chief of the gods, lord of truth; maker of all things above and below.
Hail to thee.
As the incense filled the room, a student coughed. Tutor Oba
turned around to look fiercely at him and I elbowed Asha in the side,
bent my mouth into a mean, angry line, then imitated Oba’s snarling.
One of the students laughed out loud, and Tutor Oba twisted
around. “Asha and Princess Nefertari!” he snapped.
Asha glared at me and I giggled. But outside the temple, I didn’t
ask him to race me to the edduba.
“I don’t know why the priests don’t throw us out,” he said.
I grinned. “Because we’re royalty.”
“You’re royalty,” Asha countered. “I’m the son of a soldier.”
“You mean the son of a general.”
“Still, I’m not like you. I don’t have a chamber in the palace or a
body servant. I need to be careful.”
“But it was funny,” I prompted.
“A little,” he admitted as we reached the low white walls of the
royal edduba. The schoolhouse squatted like a fat goose on the hillside, and Asha’s footsteps slowed as we approached its open doors.
“So what do you think it’ll be today?” he asked.
“Probably cuneiform.”

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He sighed heavily. “I can’t afford another poor report to my
father.”
“Take the reed mat next to mine, and I’ll write big enough for you
to see,” I promised.
Inside the halls of the edduba, students called to one another,
laughing and exchanging stories until the trumpet sounded for class.
Paser stood at the front of our chamber, observing the chaos, but
when Iset entered, the room grew silent. She moved through the
students, and they parted before her as if a giant hand had pushed
them aside. She sat across from me, folding her long legs on her
reed mat the way she always did, but this time, when she swept
back her dark hair, her fingers seemed fascinating to me. They were
long and tapered. At court, only Henuttawy surpassed Iset’s skill
with the harp. Was that why Pharaoh Seti thought she’d make a
good wife?
“We may all stop staring now,” Paser announced. “Let us take
out our ink. Today, we translate two of the Hittite emperor’s letters to Pharaoh Seti. As you know, Hittite is written in cuneiform, which will mean transcribing every word from cuneiform to
hieroglyphics.”
I took out several reed pens and ink from my bag. When the basket of blank papyrus came to me, I took the smoothest one from the
pile. Outside the edduba a trumpet blared again, and the noise from
the other classrooms went silent. Paser passed out copies of Emperor
Muwatallis’s first letter, and in the early morning heat the sound of
pens scratching on papyrus settled upon the room. The air felt
heavy, and sweat beaded behind my knees where I sat cross-legged.
Two fan bearers from the palace cooled the room with their long
blades, and as the air stirred, Iset’s perfume moved across the chamber to tickle my nose. She told the students she wore it to cover the

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unbearable smell of the ink, which is made from ash and the fat
boiled off a donkey’s skin. But I knew this wasn’t true. Palace scribes
mixed our ink with musk oil to cover the terrible scent. What she
really wanted was to attract attention. I wrinkled my nose and refused to be distracted. The important information in the letter had
been removed, and what had been left was simple to translate. I
wrote several lines in large hieroglyphics on my papyrus, and when
I’d finished with the letter, Paser cleared his throat.
“The scribes should be done with the translation of Emperor
Muwatallis’s second letter. When I return, we will move on,” he
warned sternly. The students waited until the sound of his sandals
had faded before turning to me.
“Do you understand this, Nefer?” Asha pointed to the sixth line.
“And what about this?” Baki, Vizier Anemro’s son, couldn’t make
out the third. He held out his scroll and the class waited.
“To the Pharaoh of Egypt, who is wealthy in land and great in strength. It is
like all of his other letters.” I shrugged. “It begins with flattery and
ends with a threat.”
“And what about this?” someone else asked. The students gathered around me and I translated the words quickly for them. When I
glanced at Iset, I saw that her first line wasn’t finished. “Do you need
help?”
“Why would I need help?” She pushed aside her scroll. “You
haven’t heard?”
“You’re about to become wife to Pharaoh Ramesses,” I said flatly.
Iset stood. “You think that because I wasn’t born a princess like
you that I’ll spend my life weaving linen in the harem?”
She wasn’t speaking about the harem of Mi-Wer in the Fayyum,
where Pharaoh’s least important wives are kept. She was speaking
about the harem behind the edduba, where Seti housed the women of

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previous kings and those whom he himself had chosen. Iset’s grandmother had been one of Pharaoh Horemheb’s wives. I had heard that
one day he saw her walking along the riverbank, collecting shells for
her own husband’s funeral. She was already pregnant with her only
child, but just as that had not stopped him from taking my mother,
Horemheb wanted her as his bride. So Iset was not related to a
Pharaoh at all, but to a long line of women who had lived, and fished,
and made their work on the River Nile. “I may be an orphan of the
harem,” she went on, “but I think everyone here would agree that
being the niece of a heretic is much worse, whatever your fat nurse
likes to pretend. And no one in this edduba likes you,” she revealed.
“They smile at you because of Ramesses, and now that he’s gone they
only go on smiling and laughing because you help them.”
“That’s a lie!” Asha stood up angrily. “No one here feels that way.”
I looked around, but none of the other students came to my defense, and a shamed heat crept into my cheeks.
Iset smirked. “You may think you’re great friends with Ramesses,
hunting and swimming in the lake together, but he’s marrying me. And
I’ve already consulted with the priests,” she said. “They’ve given me a
charm for every possible event.”
Asha exclaimed, “Do you think Nefertari is going to try and give
you the evil eye?”
The other students in the edduba laughed, and Iset drew herself
up to her fullest height. “She can try! All of you can try,” she said viciously. “It won’t make any difference. I’m wasting my time in this
edduba now.”
“You certainly are.” A shadow darkened the doorway, then
Henuttawy appeared in her red robes of Isis. She glanced across the
room at us, and a lion could not have looked at a mouse with any
less interest. “Where is your tutor?” she demanded.

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Iset moved quickly to the side of the High Priestess, and I noticed
that she had begun to paint her eyes the same way that Henuttawy
did, with long sweeps of kohl extending to her temples. “Gone to
see the scribes,” she answered eagerly.
Henuttawy hesitated. She walked over to my reed mat and looked
down. “Princess Nefertari. Still studying your hieroglyphs?”
“No. I’m studying my cuneiform.”
Asha laughed, and Henuttawy’s gaze flicked to him. But he was
taller than the other boys, and there was an intelligence in his glare
that unnerved her. She turned back to me. “I don’t know why you
waste your time, especially when you’ll only become a priestess in a
run-down temple like Hathor’s.”
“As always, it is charming to see you, my lady.” Our tutor had returned with a handful of scrolls. He laid them on a low table, as
Henuttawy turned to face him.
“Ah, Paser. I was just telling Princess Nefertari to be diligent in her
studies. Unfortunately, Iset does not have time for that anymore.”
“What a shame,” Paser replied, looking at Iset’s discarded papyrus. “Today, I believe she was going to progress to three lines of
cuneiform.”
The students snickered, and Henuttawy hurried from the edduba
with Iset in tow.
“There is no cause for laughing,” Paser said sharply, and the
room fell silent. “We may all go back to our translations now. When
you are finished, come to the front of the room and bring your papyrus. Then you may begin work on Emperor Muwatallis’s second
letter.”
I tried to concentrate, but tears blurred my vision. I didn’t want
anyone to see how much Iset’s words had hurt, so I kept my head
low, even when Baki made a hissing noise at me. He wants help now, I
thought. But would he even glance at me outside the edduba?
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I finished my translation and approached Paser, handing him my
sheet.
He smiled approvingly. “Excellent, as always.” I glanced back at
the other students and wondered if I detected resentment in their
eyes. “I must warn you about this next letter, however. There is an
unflattering reference to your aunt.”
“Why should I care? I’m nothing like her,” I said defensively.
“I wanted to be sure you understood. It seems the scribes forgot to
take it out.”
“She was a heretic,” I said, “and whatever words the emperor has
for her, I am sure they are justified.”
I returned to my reed mat, then skimmed the letter, searching for
familiar names. Nefertiti was mentioned at the bottom of the papyrus, and so was my mother. I held my breath as I read Emperor
Muwatallis’s words.
You threaten us with war, but our god
Teshub has watched over Hatti for a
thousand years, while your gods were
banished by Pharaoh Akhenaten. What
makes you think that they have forgiven his
heresy? It may be that Sekhmet, your
goddess of war, has abandoned you
completely. And what of Mutnodjmet,
Nefertiti’s sister? Your people allowed her
to become a queen when all of Egypt knows
she serviced your Heretic King in his temple
as well as his private chamber. Do you
really think your gods have forgiven this?
Will you risk war with us when we have
treated our own gods with respect?
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I glanced up at Paser, and in his expression seemed to flicker a
trace of regret. But I would never be pitied. Clenching the reed pen in
my hand, I wrote as quickly and firmly as I could, and when a tear
smeared the ink on my papyrus, I blotted it away with sand.
w w w

filled the Great Hall that evening, Asha and I
waited on a corner of the balcony, whispering to each other about
what had happened in the edduba. The setting sun crowned his
head in a soft glow, and the braid he wore over his shoulder was
nearly as long as mine. I sat forward on the limestone balustrade
looking at him. “Have you ever heard Iset so angry?”
“No, but I’ve never heard her say much at all,” he admitted.
“She’s been with us for seven years!”
“All she does is giggle with those harem girls who wait for her
outside.”
“She certainly wouldn’t like it if she heard you say that,” I warned.
Asha shrugged. “It doesn’t seem she likes much of anything. And
certainly not you—”
“And what have I ever done to her?” I exclaimed.
But Asha was saved from answering when Ramesses burst through
the double doors.
“There you are!” he called across to us, and Asha said quickly,
“Don’t say anything about Iset. Ramesses will only think we’re
jealous.”
Ramesses looked between the two of us. “Where have both of you
been?”
“Where have you been?” Asha countered. “We haven’t seen you
since your coronation.”
“We thought we might not ever see you again,” I added, a little
more plaintively than intended.

W H I L E C O U RT I E R S

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Ramesses embraced me. “I would never leave my little sister
behind.”
“How about your charioteer?”
At once, Ramesses let go of me. “It’s done then?” he exclaimed,
and Asha said smugly, “Just a few hours ago. Tomorrow I begin my
training to be an officer of Pharaoh’s charioteers.”
I inhaled sharply. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“I was waiting to tell you both!”
Ramesses gave Asha a congratulatory slap on the back, but I cried,
“Now I’ll be the only one left at the edduba with Paser!”
“Come,” Ramesses said, placating me. “Don’t be upset.”
“Why not?” I complained. “Asha is going to the army and you’re
getting married to Iset!”
Asha and I both looked at Ramesses to see if it was true.
“My father is going to announce it tonight. He feels she’ll make a
good wife.”
“But do you?” I asked.
“I worry about her skills,” he admitted. “You’ve seen her in Paser’s
class. But Henuttawy thinks I should make her Chief Wife.”
“Pharaohs don’t choose a Chief Wife until they’re eighteen!” I
blurted.
Ramesses studied me, and I colored at my outburst. “So what is
that?” I changed the subject and pointed to the jeweled case he was
carrying.
“A sword.” He opened the case to produce an arm-length blade.
Asha was impressed. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he
admitted.
“It’s Hittite, made of something they call iron. It’s said to be even
stronger than bronze.” The weapon had a sharper curve than anything I had seen before, and from the designs carefully etched onto
its hilt, I imagined that its cost had been great.
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Ramesses handed the weapon to Asha, who held it up to the light.
“Who gave this to you?”
“My father, for my coronation.”
Asha handed the iron blade to me, and I gripped the hilt in my
palm. “You could use this to decapitate Muwatallis!”
Ramesses laughed. “Or at least his son, Urhi.”
Asha looked between us.
“The emperor of the Hittites,” I explained. “When he dies, his
son, Urhi, will succeed him.”
“Asha doesn’t care about politics,” Ramesses said. “But ask him
anything about horses and chariots . . .”
The double doors to the balcony swung open, and Iset fixed us instantly in her gaze. Her beaded wig was adorned with charms, and a
talented body servant had dusted the kohl beneath her eyes with
small flecks of gold.
“The three inseparables,” she said, smiling.
I realized how much she sounded like Henuttawy. She crossed the
balcony, and I wondered where she’d gotten the deben to afford sandals with lapis jewels. What gold had been left when Iset’s mother
died had long since been spent educating her.
“What is this?” She looked down at the sword I had returned to
Ramesses.
“For war,” Ramesses explained. “Would you like to watch? I’m
going to show Asha and Nefer how it cuts.”
Iset frowned prettily. “But the cupbearer has already poured your
father’s wine.”
Ramesses hesitated. He breathed in her perfume, and I could see
how he was affected by her closeness. Her sheath was tight over her
curves and exposed her beautifully hennaed breasts. Then I noticed
the gold and carnelian necklace at her throat. She was wearing
Queen Tuya’s jewels. The queen, who had watched me play with
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Ramesses since we were children, had given her favorite necklace
to Iset.
Ramesses glanced across at Asha, and then at me.
“Some other time,” Asha said helpfully, and Iset took Ramesses’s
arm. We watched as they left the balcony together, and I turned
to Asha.
“Did you see what she was wearing?”
“Queen Tuya’s own jewels,” he said with resignation.
“But why would Ramesses choose a wife like Iset? So she’s pretty.
What does that matter when she doesn’t speak Hittite or even write
cuneiform?”
“It matters because Pharaoh needs a wife,” Asha said grimly. “You
know, he might have chosen you—if not for your family.”
It was as though someone had crushed the air from my chest. I
followed him into the Great Hall, and that evening, when the marriage was formally announced, I felt I was losing something I would
never get back. Yet neither of Iset’s parents were there to see her triumph. Her father was unknown, and this would have been a great
scandal for Iset’s mother had she lived through childbirth. So the
herald announced her grandmother’s name instead; for she had
raised Iset and had once been a part of Pharaoh Horemheb’s harem.
She had been dead for a year, but this was the proper thing to do.
When the feast was finally over, I returned to my chamber off the
royal courtyard and sat quietly at my mother’s ebony table. Merit
wiped the kohl from my eyes and the red ochre from my lips, then
she handed me a cone of incense and watched as I knelt before my
mother’s naos. Some naoi are large and granite, with an opening in
the center to place a statue of a god and a ledge on which to burn incense. My naos, however, was small and wooden. It was a shrine my
mother had owned as a girl, and perhaps even her mother before
her. When I kneeled, it only came up to my chest, and inside the
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Michelle Moran
wooden doors was a statue of Mut, after whom my mother had been
named. While the feline goddess regarded me with her cat eyes, I
blinked away tears.
“What would have happened if my mother had lived?” I asked
Merit.
My nurse sat on the corner of the bed. “I don’t know, my lady. But
remember the many hardships that she endured. In the fire your
mother lost everyone she loved.”
The chambers in Malkata to which the fire had spread had never
been rebuilt. The blackened stones and charred remains of wooden
tables still stood beyond the royal courtyard, reclaimed by vines and
untended weeds. When I was seven, I had insisted that Merit take
me there, and when we arrived I’d stood frozen to the spot, trying to
imagine where my father had been when the flames broke out. Merit
said it was an oil lamp that had fallen, but I had heard the viziers
speak of something darker, of a plot to kill my grandfather, the
Pharaoh Ay. Behind those walls, my entire family had vanished in
the flames: my brother, my father, my grandfather and his queen.
Only my mother survived because she had been in the gardens. And
when General Horemheb heard that Ay was dead, he came to the
palace with the army behind him and forced my mother into marriage. For she had been the last royal link to the throne. I wondered
if Horemheb felt any guilt at all when she too embraced Osiris, still
crying out my father’s name. Sometimes, I thought of her last weeks
on earth. Just as my ka was being formed by Khnum on his potter’s
wheel, hers had been flying away.
I looked over my shoulder at Merit, watching me with unhappy
eyes. She didn’t like when I asked questions about my mother, but
she never refused to answer them. “And when she died,” I asked,
even though I already knew the answer, “who did she cry out for?”
Merit’s face grew solemn. “Your father. And—”
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The Heretic Queen
I turned, forgetting about the cone of incense. “And?”
“And her sister,” she admitted.
My eyes widened. “You’ve never said that before!”
“Because it’s nothing you needed to know,” Merit said quickly.
“But was she truly a heretic, as they say?”
“My lady—”
I saw that Merit was going to put off my question, and I shook my
head firmly. “I was named for Nefertiti. My mother couldn’t have believed that her sister was a heretic.”
No one spoke the name of Nefertiti in the palace, and Merit
pressed her lips together to keep from reprimanding me. She unfolded her hands and her gaze grew distant. “It was not so much the
Pharaoh-Queen herself, as her husband.”
“Akhenaten?”
Merit shifted uncomfortably. “Yes. He banished the gods. He destroyed the temples of Amun and replaced the statues of Ra with
ones of himself.”
“And my aunt?”
“She filled the streets with her image.”
“In place of the gods?”
“Yes.”
“But then where have they gone? I have never even seen a likeness
of them.”
“Of course not!” Merit stood. “Everything that belonged to your
aunt was destroyed.”
“Even my mother’s name,” I said and looked back at the shrine. Incense drifted across the face of the feline goddess. When she died,
Horemheb had taken everything. “It’s as though I’ve been born with
no akhu,” I said. “No ancestors at all. Did you know that in the edduba,” I confided, “students don’t learn about Nefertiti’s reign, or the
reign of Pharaoh Ay, or Tutankhamun?”
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Merit nodded. “Yes. Horemheb erased their names from the
scrolls.”
“He took their lives. He ruled for four years, but they teach us
that he ruled for dozens and dozens. I know better. Ramesses knows
better. But what will my children be taught? For them, my family
will never have existed.”
Each year, on the Feast of Wag, Egyptians visit the mortuary temples of their ancestors. But there was nowhere for me to honor my
own mother’s ka or the ka of my father with incense or a bowl of oil.
Even their tombs had been hidden in the hills of Thebes, safe from
the Aten priests and Horemheb’s vengeance. “Who will remember
them, Merit? Who?”
Merit placed her palm on my shoulder. “You.”
“And when I’m gone?”
“Make sure you are never gone from the people’s memory. And
those who know of your fame will search out your past and find
Pharaoh Ay and Queen Mutnodjmet.”
“Otherwise they will be erased.”
“And Horemheb will have succeeded.”

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